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September 11 one year on Friday, 30 August, 2002, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Afghanistan miracle turns to muddle
Pashtun fighters
Tensions remain among Afghan factions

At first, it was only a whisper, a guarded remark in the days after 11 September. For Afghans and expatriates who had long followed Afghanistan's misfortunes, the international campaign which gathered pace after the attacks on the US had "a silver lining in very dark clouds".

After three decades of political instability, there was a new chink of hope. Many feared it was - and still is - Afghanistan's last hope.

But one year on, that hope is fading.

There have been, from the start, two very different battles waged in Afghanistan. Washington's top priority continues to be the quest to track down remnants of the Taleban and the al-Qaeda network.

Public outcry

Afghans want a country run by laws, not guns. But Washington's war means arming and empowering some of the very warlords and regional commanders President Hamid Karzai now needs to weaken if his writ is to ever run beyond Kabul.

And Afghans are asking how long the "war on terror" will be fought on their soil. The American air strike in central Afghanistan which killed dozens of Afghans at a wedding party provoked a public outcry and a hardening of official attitudes.

A contradiction between military and political goals has long marked this campaign. America's overwhelming military force toppled the Taleban but the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance rode into Kabul driven by Washington's might, claiming victory and a disproportionate share of power.

The horrors of 11 September unleashed a new geopolitics and a critical challenge to Afghans and the international community

Each new phase of the political process since then has only consolidated their hold, particularly on the emerging security and intelligence apparatus.

Afghan leaders insist the only way to achieve stability and the rule of law is to empower the fledgling administration with military and financial clout. Mr Karzai has gone around the world pleading for an expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) outside the capital.

His appeal is still echoed by human rights groups, Western military commanders who have served in Kabul, and the UN itself.

Perilous peacekeeping

In July 2002, the UN's Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi told the UN Security Council "insecurity remains the foremost challenge". He said the expansion of ISAF would have "an enormous impact" and could be achieved "with relatively few troops, relatively little cost, and little danger".

Washington's approach is to finance and train a new national army drawn from Afghanistan's diverse ethnic mix - it is an urgent priority backed by other Western governments who also want to avoid getting bogged down in perilous peacekeeping.

General Fahim
Fahim is said to be unconvinced about a national force
But this mammoth task will take years. UN sources also worry that the powerful Tajik Defence Minister, Marshall Fahim, has not fully signed on to the idea of a national force. Western diplomats agree, but say he is a key ally in the war against al-Qaeda.

A recent report from the International Crisis Group warned that unless political and military goals can be reconciled, "today's successes are tomorrow's problems".

A sense of being "left in the lurch" grows more acute on the aid front. In the weeks after 11 September, as the military campaign gathered pace, a chorus of Western leaders and aid chiefs promised Afghans they would not be abandoned - as Britain's Tony Blair put it, they were with them "for the long haul".


They pledged not to repeat the mistakes of a decade ago when Afghanistan was largely left to its fate after Soviet troops pulled out in the dying days of the Cold War. For a people drained by years of war, drought and sheer misery, the world's sudden embrace seemed nothing less than a miracle.

There was no doubting the outpouring of good will. But out of $1.8bn pledged in January for this first critical year, only a fraction has arrived - only a fraction has gone to the fledgling Afghan Government, and only a fraction is being directed to badly-needed reconstruction.

And aid donors recently made it clear not much more aid can be expected before the next budget year in April 2003.

Delays are variously blamed on bureaucracy, security concerns, and donor fatigue. Even the UN's aid agency, the UNHCR, has run out of money to help Afghan refugees go home.

Hamid Karzai
Pressure is mounting on Hamid Karzai
Experienced hands saw it coming. Last December, the head of the United Nations Development Programme, Mark Malloch Brown, told me he was trying to get countries to "sign the cheques now", before attention and money was diverted elsewhere.

Afghan officials still try to put on a brave face. In a recent interview in Kabul, the new Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani expressed hope that the aid would soon flow, pointing out that donors needed to see evidence of sound financial systems.

But Hamid Karzai, speaking just after he was elected President by the loya jirga (grand national gathering), said the time had come to hold the aid community to its promises.

Pressure is mounting on Mr Karzai to show results, including from his own Pashtun ethnic group.

The loya jirga gave him a powerful popular mandate, but some Afghans say he missed an opportunity to consolidate his authority and diminish the grip of the warlords.

Urgent repair

He has to prove that his policy of accommodation instead of confrontation is the right one. But without his own army and many resources, he has little more than the power of persuasion. Reports from the provinces speak of lawlessness in some areas and a growing number of clashes between competing commanders.

Aid isn't just urgently needed to repair the ravages of war. Its also a principal weapon in the Afghan Government's battle to strengthen Kabul and convince men with guns to work with, rather than against, the administration.

The horrors of 11 September unleashed a new geopolitics and a critical challenge to Afghans and the international community. One year on, the omens are troubling.

And, if a military campaign is launched against Iraq, the focus on Afghanistan will shift even more dramatically - troops, money and hope will move on.

New York despatches





See also:

26 Jul 02 | South Asia
25 Jul 02 | South Asia
07 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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